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08.02.2005 General News

Ghanaian pilgrims send SOS home for help

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The annual Hajj pilgrimage by Moslems to Mecca and other holy places in Saudi Arabia ended some two weeks ago, but Ghanaian pilgrims who made the trip under the management of the Ghana Hajj Board are wallowing in one misery after the other, not even sure just when they would be returning home.

A desperate call from Mecca to the ADM yesterday spoke of untold hardships being suffered by the pilgrims while the "chairman of the Hajj Board is enjoying the luxury of a five star hotel in Jeddah".

Mr A-R. Alhassan, now Alhaji himself, told the ADM in a phone conversation that because of the mess, poorer pilgrims among them have run out of money and are now living in utter misery.

Members of the Hajj Board, he said, have adopted a nonchalant attitude, with one of them suspected to have even embezzled close to $US12, 000 of Hajj funds. One other problem, he said, is the luggage of the Ghanaian pilgrims.

Though essentially a religious activity, the pilgrims end up buying tons and tons of items, which end up giving problems to the airline chartered to carry them. At present, he said, articulated trucks of Ghanaian pilgrims' luggage stand on pavements in the holy city creating an eyesore.

Nobody, he said, seems to know what to do with them and fear has gripped the pilgrims' community that their luggage would be left behind.

The loaded articulated trucks have also become the target of Saudi security personnel who understandably are suspicious about all that much luggage clogging their pavements.

Even as the holy city is clearing of pilgrims, Ghanaian pilgrims at the time of writing yesterday had not yet visited the other holy city of Medina. Though not an essential part of the Hajj, a visit to the Holy Prophet's Mosque and burial place in Medina has over the centuries become a part of the "ziara".

No one goes to Mecca without topping it up with a visit to Medina.

Mr Alhassan told ADM that the pilgrims feel beleaguered because no one is quite sure when the first flight to Ghana would be. "Perhaps this Friday", he guessed.

A good 30% of the problems the Saudi authorities face before, during and after the Hajj is said to come from Ghana.

This is a problem that has persisted over the years, mainly because the Hajj Board is ad hoc, disorganised, unprofessional and allegedly very corrupt.

A senior Islamic leader, Sheikh Nuamah, told the ADM editor in Mecca that "some one must answer for all this mess."

He is right. Probably, the time has come for the government of Ghana and its Islamic community to sit down and find a lasting solution to this perennial problem.

The Hajj pilgrimage is not like other religious pilgrimages. It is not an optional requirement. It is as obligatory as the Ramadan or the other pillars of Islam.

It absolutely requires massive doses of modern business management practices.

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